Can insurers use your social media posts as evidence? Yes! Attwood Marshall Lawyers encourage clients to deactivate social media accounts because insurers can use posts to try to reject a TPD claim, writes Senior Personal Injury paralegal Amy Lewis.
If you have suffered a permanent injury or chronic illness and made a TPD claim for life insurance, the last thing you would expect is for an insurer to set up a fake Facebook account to spy on you. But that is exactly what insurer MetLife did when NSW policewoman Bernadette Hellessey made her claim for Total & Permanent Disablement [TPD].
Ms Hellessey first made a claim for TPD benefits after a severe panic attack at work, following nine years of work-related stress. During her career, the officer encountered dead infants, dismembered car crash victims, abused children and once had to cut down the body of a 19-year-old man from a tree after he had hanged himself.
Ms Hellessey suffered permanent psychological damage after a fellow police officer approached her from behind as she was typing at her desk and removed a service pistol from her holster. This caused Ms Hellessey to suffer a severe panic attack where she feared for her life.
In 2012, Ms Hellessey claimed TPD benefits under her policy held with First State Super, and provided MetLife (First State Super’s insurer) psychiatric evidence she was totally and permanently disabled.
MetLife repeatedly rejected her claim for benefits, and invented a false Facebook profile to befriend Ms Hellessey’s niece in order to gather evidence against her.
In court, MetLife cited Ms Hellessey’s Facebook status updates as evidence that she did not have a social phobia given she continued to participate as secretary of a pony club and at her horse stud between 2011 and 2012.
MetLife acknowledged that reports from Ms Hellessey’s treating psychiatrists were inconsistent with their conclusion, that she could return to gainful employment. However, Metlife argued that the medical practitioners were not informed of the full or accurate account of Ms Hellessey’s activities.
A judge said the posts cited by MetLife, if taken at face value and in isolation, suggested Ms Hellessey “had a wonderful time at various horse shows and that her participation was something in the nature of a party” but in reality, Ms Hellessey had few friends and the posts did not reflect her overall situation.
Further, medical expert opinion suggested Ms Hellessey’s horse-related activities and her Facebook posts were therapeutic and did not exclude a PTSD diagnosis.
In September 2017 the Court found that Ms Hellessey met the TPD definition within her policy and judgment was awarded in her favour.
Metlife recently attempted to appeal this decision, however, the Court dismissed the application on the basis Metlife ignored reports from Ms Hellessey’s treating medical experts and relied on selective evidence gathered via the claimant’s Facebook page.
Can insurers use your social media posts as evidence?
As the case above shows, anything you put on social media can be used against you in court proceedings. Insurers may attempt to access your social media posts as well as your private messages in order to obtain information to reject your claim. Therefore, when preparing to lodge your TPD claim, Attwood Marshall Lawyers strongly encourage you to deactivate your social media accounts.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers can help you a TPD claim
If you believe you may be eligible to make a claim for TPD benefits, contact our TPD legal team to assist you. We will make an inquiry with your super fund(s) to establish whether you hold TPD insurance and can make a claim.
Who can qualify to make a TPD claim?
To qualify for a TPD benefit, you must be able to satisfy the definition of TPD under your policy. TPD definitions can differ, but generally, there are two criteria which must be satisfied:
- It must be shown that you have been unable to work for a specified period of time.
- It must be established you are unlikely to be able to engage in your usual occupation or any occupation for which you are qualified, by education, training and experience
Do time limits apply to a TPD claim?
Generally, there are no time limits apply to your entitlement to seek TPD benefits. However, there may be strict time limits which apply if your claim has initially been rejected or a decision has been made and you are seeking a review. The time limit will vary depending on your policy.
For information: Personal Injuries Department Manager Kelli Costin on 07 5506 8220 for a consultation.